Review: Four Flies on Grey Velvet

DVD / Blu-ray review (region 2)

Directed by Dario Argento

Starring Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Bud Spencer

Release date 30 January 2011

A mysterious man is following musician Robert Tobias (Brandon). When Robert confronts the man in an empty theatre, he ends up accidentally stabbing him – which is captured on camera by a masked figure in the balcony above. Soon Robert receives photos of the killing in the post and is physically attacked in his own home. But what does the blackmailer want?

“It’s all quite absurd if you stop and think about the structure of the film,” says co-writer Luigi Cozzi in the interview that accompanies Four Flies on Grey Velvet. He’s not wrong. Dario Argento’s third feature is a mystery thriller that operates on a different level of logic and tone than your standard detection fiction – or even your standard giallo, a genre that’s well known for embracing the outré.

It’s no surprise to learn that Argento came up with the title first, worked out the elaborate murder scenes with Cozzi next, and then eventually got round to concocting a plot of sorts, incorporating bits and pieces lifted from other books and films.

As with many a giallo flick, it’s not worth investing too much time in trying to work out the killer’s identity (who hides behind a creepy smiley face) – indeed, once the killer is revealed it barely makes any sense. Four Flies is hardly an acting masterclass, either: as the rather objectionable hero, Michael Brandon just looks bored by the whole affair, except when having bath sex with his wife’s cousin (who pops up in the house at random).

And yet this is a loopy, fruity treat of a movie. The murder scenes – in a park, in a loft, in a subway toilet  – are tense, violent, original and stylish. The arbitrary minor characters – a private eye who has failed to solve 85 cases; a semi-vagrant called The Professor who is inexplicably hired to watch the house; a friend called “God” who likes to chow down on raw fish; a frightened postman – are hilarious. And in terms of visuals, this is Argento at his most awe-inspiring, whether it’s a slowed down bullet zipping through the air or glass shattering artfully in front of a character’s face, with the filmmaker’s camera prowling around the action like an inquisitive cat.

In the interview, Cozzi explains how carefully Argento set up every single frame of the movie – a big contrast to the pleasing randomness of the plot.

Cozzi also has plenty of interesting things to say about the film’s influences, explaining how he drew on his favourite pulp sci-fi stories as well as western and detective fiction, and also chats about the music (Deep Purple were replaced by Ennio Morricone at the last minute to make sure it counted as an “Italian” production;) and the ambitious special effects.

VERDICT:  A beautiful and wonderfully bonkers murder mystery. 8/10

Matt McAllister

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